Quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, exercising and losing weight are known to improve your health and to help extend your life. Many health insurers offer discounted premiums and other incentives to encourage you to make healthy habits a part of your lifestyle. Whether you are insured under an employer's plan or have your own private insurance, shaping up or kicking bad habits can pay big dividends.
In determining premiums, health insurance companies consider a number of factors, including personal risk factors. Smokers are more likely to develop debilitating and expensive diseases such as lung cancer or heart disease. Those who are obese also are more likely to develop these diseases, as well as diabetes and osteoarthritis. Those who drink heavily increase their risk of cancers of the throat and cirrhosis of the liver.
Employers pay 36 percent more for health care costs than they did five years ago, according to Health in 30. Hoping to curb those costs, they increasingly are offering incentives for employees to adopt healthier habits or penalties for bad habits. They may hit up smokers for an extra premium fee, while offering a premium discount for completing a quit-smoking program. They also may offer a wellness discount for employees who undergo health assessments and act to improve problem areas.
Insurers offer incentives and disincentives to individual customers. While insurance companies' programs vary, they generally charge higher rates for smokers and those who are overweight. For example, a 5-foot-2-inch woman who weighs between 163 and 216 pounds may be socked with extra fees, while one weighing more than 216 pounds may lose coverage entirely, according to Medplan Access. Smokers typically pay more than 20 percent extra in premiums.
Cheaper premiums aren't the only incentives provided for a healthy lifestyle. Insurers offer discounted gym memberships or nutrition consultations, for example. Companies may reimburse employees for the cost of their gym membership if they use it a certain number of times each year. Or companies may offer rewards, such as electronic gadgets, for employees who reach health goals.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Employer Health Incentives: Employee Wellness Programs Prod Workers to Adopt Healthy Lifestyles
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan: Our Healthy Products
- Health in 30: Health Care: Employers Encourage Healthy Lifestyles with Penalties and Rewards
- Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee Program: Discounts for Healthy Living
- Go Insurance Rates: Smoking and Body Mass Index Impact Health Insurance Premiums
- eHealthInsurance: Healthy Living Tips for Affordable Health Insurance
- Bankrate.com: Wellness Programs Lower Insurance Premiums
Randi Hicks Rowe is a former journalist, public relations professional and executive in a Fortune 500 company, and currently a formation minister in the Episcopal Church. She has been published in Security Management, American Indian Report and Tech Republic.She has a bachelor's in communications, a master of arts in Christian education and a master of business administration.